Arroyo Grande is now halfway through a pilot overnight parking program that allows homeless people living in their vehicles to sleep at a local church, and so far, participation has remained scant.
“I was surprised that we have not had more people, but this is an experiment to see what happens,” the Rev. Valerie Valle of Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church said during a council meeting this week. “I would like to continue the process.”
In March, the Arroyo Grande City Council had approved a permit for a six-month program at the church at 301 Trinity Ave. The church was allowed to have three vehicles stay overnight in its parking lot with the option of increasing to five after three months.
But because of low interest — for reasons that are still unknown — church members decided not to request any additional spots.
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The program will continue through Sept. 27. At that time, council members could discontinue the program, approve another temporary permit or make it a permanent program. The council didn’t make any changes to the program Tuesday.
Homeless individuals wanting to partake in the program must first apply. To date, five applications have been submitted to Arroyo Grande police by a Community Health Centers of the Central Coast case manager, who is in charge of screening and recommending potential applicants.
Police then conduct a limited background check of all the people who would be sleeping in vehicles and reject anyone with a history of sexual violations, violent crimes or “other issues of concern,” according to a city staff report.
So far, police have approved two applications and rejected two others; the fifth is still going through the process. At this time, no one has been staying in the church parking lot, though a church member drives by nightly to check.
The program has worried many neighbors in the small area who have formed a neighborhood watch group and continue to voice concerns.
Though no neighbors attended Tuesday’s meeting, residents Julie and Jesse Wobrock submitted a letter urging the council to discontinue the program.
“The program (as it stands) is inadequate, pathetic and not worthy of consideration,” they wrote. “There have been more reported incidents at the church, compared to actual participants in the program. It is obvious that there is not an immediate need for this program in this neighborhood.”
Lighting in the parking lot has remained an issue for local residents, who said they don’t believe it’s adequate. The church has installed additional lights, but they need to be raised higher to illuminate more of the parking area, according to city planners.
Councilman Tim Brown wondered if the city was becoming a “destination for a transitory population.” Police Chief Steve Annibali said he hasn’t noticed a change in the number of people camping overnight on city streets.
From April 1 through Tuesday, officers made contact with 18 people who appeared to be sleeping or camping in their vehicles on streets throughout the city, including in the Village area, the park-and-ride lot at El Camino Real and Halcyon Road, and the Walmart parking lot off West Branch Street, Annibali said. None of the drivers were cited.
Since the parking program started, police have received three calls for service, including a report of three cars parked in the lot. Officers informed the drivers of parking program requirements and the drivers left the area.
Another caller reported an unoccupied vehicle that appeared to be set up for sleeping. The vehicle was registered to Valle.
Valle said she’d like to find out why there hasn’t been more interest in the program. The case worker is being careful in her selection process, but some people may be put off by the program’s location and its distance from services.
The requirements could also be difficult for some to meet. Interested participants must have a connection to the South County through work, school or family, have vehicle insurance, be in contact with a case manager on a regular basis and demonstrate a sincere interest in finding permanent housing.